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Hey, you are stressed, I am stressed, we are all stressed. This is not news. Also not news: there are no quick or universal solutions. Having said that: I do think that stress relief can come from the most unexpected of places and the little rituals you build around small pleasures can go a long way. So, in the spirit of that, I am proposing a new column for all of us here on BYT: SANITY CHECK, where we find those little moments and rituals and unexpected tips and share them.

If you have any tips to share, please emails us at [email protected] – we will gladly share it. But, to get things going, I’ll start with a runaway hit of my personal quarantine activities: reading cookbooks while eating breakfast.

  1. Mornings are a critical time in the day. It is when THE MOOD IS SET. How you start your day is how you will go through it. A lot of people recommend making sure you take time to read something other than news, but no one really addresses the fact things like novels and essays are not great for AM’s either, because they take too long to get into, can’t really be consumed in couple-of-pages bites and often can be, well, unappetizing themselves.
  2. And reading materials being appetizing is important because eating breakfast is important. We all know this and yet so many of us still find ourselves doing it in between annoying other things / on the go / etc.
  3. Cookbooks are delightful. Not just as recipe sources but as inspiration, as insights into people’s whole life philosophies and strategies, different cultures, etc. Have you ever wondered why every cookbook author out there seems like the calmest, most centered person in the world? They’ve found their thing, and that thing is taking pleasure in small things, like the beauty of a perfectly boiled egg or the freshest strawberries. This is THE LIFE I want.
  4. The forewords to cookbooks are usually about 2-5 pages, which is a perfect amount of time to read something while eating a breakfast.

So, with all that in mind – it makes ALL THE SENSE to read some cookbooks while eating breakfast. I love it. It is the best thing I do all day, every day, and I have developed a cookbook buying habit to support it (but I FEEL OK about it because I am supporting small bookstores and getting inspired to buy exciting new foods which will help support food producers and farmers out there and…. it’s all worth it).

Don’t know where to start with this project?

Well, lucky for you, me and my 85 cookbook collection can help. A few great books to sink those morning teeth into, in no particular order:

Carla Hall’s Soul Food

Carla Hall is everyone’s favorite Top Chef contestant and there is a reason why: there is something just so human and genuine about this woman that you have to be, well, unhuman to react to it. The foreword, which tackles her (and her family’s, and Black community’s, as a whole) connection to food as a way of passing traditions and values along the way, made me cry at 7:30am in a good, cathartic way. Also, her tomato sandwich is truly the only thing you will want to have for lunch this COVID summer: simple yet genius, filled with flavor and appreciation for things we have, it is a small but mighty masterpiece of recipes-as-intentions writing.

Where Cooking Begins – Carla Lalli Music

Carla Lalli Music is your best kitchen friend – no nonsense, not precious or fussy, not afraid to improvise and adapt. So it makes sense that her first cookbook – which centers around the idea that your shopping habits and seasonal produce should inform how you cook (so simple, yet so hard) is funny, sane, and confident with each recipe feeling like a conversation of sorts.

Everlasting Meal – Tamar Adler

We have written about Tamar A LOT on BYT so I will just use this caption from our “Books to Help You Make Sense of 2019/This Decade” (remember when we felt we needed to make sense of 2019? and then 2020 happened?):

One of the pinnacles of my professional self-satisfaction was when we, over here at lil ole BYT, got to interview Tamar Adler. The reason why, of all the things we’ve done, I think of this moment especially fondly is that Tamar’s “Everlasting Meal” book nothing short than changed my life. I originally stumbled upon it when Sheila Heti recommended it in some book round up or another, and since I tend to do whatever Sheila Heti tells me to do, I bought it. It has since been the #1 book I’ve given to people as a present. A treatise on “cooking with economy and grace” (which translates into “living with economy and grace”) “Everlasting Meal” is a meditation on forgotten, underappreciated skills of boiling, frying and baking (among others), as well as enjoying the products of your labors. Recipes are sprinkled throughout, allowing you to never stop seeing the possibilities of even the humblest ingredients, the simplest of rituals, and feeling grateful for the the things you have, on your plate and in your life. She is also funny and real and very talented in the kitchen. (Alice Waters hands her sign of approval, by writing the foreword.)

BONUS: Tamar also does the food column for Vogue, if you are interested in MORE of her (which you will be)

In Pursuit of Flavor – Edna Lewis

The most elegant of odes to Southern cooking, this cookbook masterpiece (it was inducted into the James Beard Hall of Fame) by Miss Lewis (as she was widely known) takes you on a meditative journey of flavors across six categories, each one more genuinely filled with love for food and rituals surrounding it: From Gardens and Orchards; From the Farmyard; From the Lakes, Steams, and Oceans; For the Cupboard; From the Bread Oven and Griddle; and The Taste of Old-fashioned Desserts. Just this book alone could save your summer, trust me.

Indian-ish – Priya Krishna

COVID has meant a change in our family dynamics: some of us have not seen ours in months, some have seen too much of theirs… and Indian-ish is a great cookbook to help us appreciate the family we have. Essentially a love letter to the way her Indian parents raised their Indian-American daughters, in the kitchen and elsewhere, it is funny, heartwarming, and filled with brilliant little hacks to add flavor and spice to your life in unexpected ways. Each recipe is essentially a dish origin story rooted in trips, family rituals, parental quirks and more. Adorable. And very relaxing.

Simple Cake – Odette Williams

Full disclosure: I am a pretty good cook but I don’t know how to bake. At all. It is not in my mental set up to be super precise and allow for no interpretations in the kitchen. But I love reading about it. And Odette Williams’ tome dedicated to “all your need to keep your friends and family in cake” is basically a poem about why baking is special, especially when stripped down to its essence: there is something meditative and deeply satisfying about its definitiveness that immediately soothes the soul.

Buvette Cookbook -Jody Williams

Buvette is an enchanting little (tiny) restaurant in New York’s West Village that is, by all accounts, a COVID nightmare: you sit very close to people, shoulder-to-shoulder and there is not 6 inches between tables, let alone 6 feet. But the food is perfect in its simplicity, and the joy one gets being handed a perfect little cocktail or a pile of soft eggs with a sprinkling of caviar on top is still very high on my list of favorite sensory/eating memories. The cookbook inspired by this cooking / way of life will let you reconnect to those simple pleasures in your home: Jody talks about artichokes like they are the loves of her life and makes a seltzer with some bitters added on top seem like the most elegant thing in the world. Every paragraph make you understand that ample, humble luxuries can be found in the everyday. And that is the greatest gift we can give ourselves right now.

Hartwood – Eric Werner and Mya Henry

Because none of us are going on vacation this year – a cookbook that is about the magic of a place as much as the recipes that come from it feels like a true gift.

What are YOU reading and cooking from?

Use the comment section as an open thread to share your cookbook recommendations.